Recipes for Healthy, Natural Living

Fermentation and Your Fantastic Gut: Why Fermented Foods Help

If you haven’t heard about the importance of gut bacteria to your health, well, where have you been? It’s been everywhere!

Research on gut bacteria and health has taken a giant leap thanks to DNA research. This research has made us aware that our body is not just human cells – we have tiny microbial cells living in our guts, and on our skin. Scientific opinions differ on just what percent of cells on our body belong to microflora, but there are at least as many microbial cells in and on our body as human cells, if not more.

All of these microbial genes in and on our body form our microbiome. Your microbiome is absolutely unique, and can be considered like a second fingerprint.

Some of the things that influence your microbiome for better or worse depend on whether:

  • you were delivered through cesarean section or not
  • you were breastfed or not
  • you frequently take antibiotics
  • the meat and dairy in your diet was fed with antibiotics
  • you use hand sanitizer or antimicrobial soap
  • you consume prebiotics and probiotics

The benefits of a healthy gut microbiome are manifold – there is even evidence that gut dysbiosis, that is, an unbalanced gut microbiome, can cause cardiovascular disease.

On the other hand, the microbes in your gut can also create chemicals that can keep you from experiencing depression and anxiety.

There is a mucosal lining in your gut which prevents bacteria and food particles from crossing into your blood stream. A diverse microbial community that gets the food it needs (prebiotics) will encourage a healthy mucosal lining. A poor microbial community that is not well fed can end up living off of your mucosal lining, allowing pathogenic microbes to enter your bloodstream and sometimes causing leaky gut syndrome.

Eating fermented foods is a good way to ensure a healthy microbiome with a diverse microbial community.

When you eat fermented foods, the bacteria and yeasts in these foods don’t necessarily set up camp themselves in your digestive system, but they can supply your gut bacteria with the materials they need.

Here are some fermented foods that can help supply probiotics to your gut flora:

  • sourdough baked goods
  • yogurt
  • kefir
  • kombucha
  • water kefir
  • sauerkraut
  • kim chi
  • lacto-fermented veggies, such as traditionally made pickles

However, fermented food is not enough to feed the legions in your gut. You also need pre-biotics, that is, foods that contain indigestible fibers. You can’t digest them, but your microflora can.

Prebiotics can be obtained by eating:

  • onions
  • garlic
  • leeks
  • asparagus
  • oats
  • apples
  • flaxseeds
  • jicama
  • jerusalem artichokes
  • seaweed

Remember, the health of your gut lining depends on you feeding your little digesting partners, so prebiotics shouldn’t be considered optional.

Your gut truly is fantastic – treat it so!

This post was originally published on Aug 4, 2015. It was updated on September 26, 2020.

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